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Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year in Review: 2010 Favorites

As we get ready to wrap up another year, I can't help but reflect on what a year it's been, inside and outside the kitchen. We went on a fabulous vacation to Arizona in March, I started a new position at my company, we spent a lot of June traveling for races and graduations, enjoyed lots of Pinkberry in San Diego, I woke up at 4 am many hot mornings to endure long marathon training runs, Ryan had his best birthday ever in Chicago thanks to Foodbuzz and Columbia Crest, we fell in love with the East Coast, we returned to Chicago for the 10/10/10 marathon (my first!), and we spent the last two months of the year squeezing in a few more weekend trips to visit family in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Whew. It's been a crazy year, but a fun one! Aside from all of the traveling, we've kept busy with work, our church, fitness, and spending time with friends as much as possible. Through it all, I've managed to maintain a consistent presence in our kitchen, which continues to surprise and amaze me. Tomorrow, I'll recap our Twelve in Ten challenge and introduce the blog challenge for 2011. In the meantime, I wanted to post 10 of our favorite recipes from the past year. It was HARD to choose only 10, but these are recipes I highly recommend you try this coming year!

In no particular order...

1. Turkey Burgers! But I couldn't choose just one. Instead, I recommend any of the following: Thai Turkey Burgers, Apple Cheddar Turkey Burgers, Goat Cheese Stuffed Burgers with Red Pepper Relish, or Greek Turkey Burgers.

2. Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte! I'm still salivating over this dessert I made for Julia's birthday. Try it frozen!
3. This panzanella caprese has been a repeated recipe in our household....a rare occasion, but totally worth it!
4. Ryan and I still talk about this green grilled pizza, though any of our grilled pizzas are a favorite!
6. As soon as nectarines are in season again, fire up the grill and make these grilled pork chops with fresh nectarine salsa
7. The list wouldn't be complete if I didn't include the lemon tart. I still remember Ryan's glee and Mike smacking his face with his hands over this dessert!
8. Pumpkin granola bars are good for breakfast, snack, or a dessert. Scour the grocery shelves for those few remaining cans of pumpkin. These are too good to wait until next Fall!
9. Wheat thins have been forever ruined for me. While I'll always love the ease and convenience of store bought crackers, they still don't compare to the flavor in freshly made crackers! So glad Maggie and I tackled these!
10. After watching my family go crazy for these mint oreo truffles, it's only right that I include them on the list. They were definitely a favorite this Christmas and I will be making many more batches over the next year!

Wow, choosing 10 was hard...especially as I began to look back over old blog posts. Take time to peruse on this site, using the label feature on the side or going through the archives by month. There are a LOT of great recipes! And please, keep coming back in 2011!! You can expect more of everything--I can't wait to see what great meals grace our kitchen this year!

Tell me, what's your favorite recipe from The Sweets Life in 2010?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chicken Sausage and Apple Strata

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In case you're looking for another brunch option for New Year's Day (in addition to those sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls I posted yesterday!), you might want to consider this egg dish. You can put it together today, go out tonight and party, then wake up tomorrow and pop this in the oven. I'm all about the stress-free breakfasts!

This was my mom's addition to our Christmas morning spread. She gets all of the credit for putting this together, though I'm told my dad also gets a shout-out for browning the sausage. I only had to put it in the oven. It's a good thing we had opted for a make-ahead breakfast, because Christmas morning we found ourselves with an incredibly clogged kitchen sink. After an emergency visit from my father in law, a snake (not to be confused with the reptile!), and a very messy kitchen, the clog was eliminated and the remainder of Christmas went off without a hitch!

The recipe is slightly adapted from the original, and while we all really liked this dish, we agreed it could use a bit more of a kick. If you have picky eaters on your hands, I suggest leaving as is. Otherwise, you might want to spice it up with some roasted red peppers or another addition. Don't be afraid by the apple/sausage/egg combination, it all went together nicely!

Chicken Sausage and Apple Strata
adapted from the Chicago Tribune

-2 tsp oil
-1 lb mild pork sausage
-2 large Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
-12 pieces day-old white bread, cubed
-9 eggs, slightly beaten
-3 cups milk
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp pepper
-3/4 tsp dry mustard
-1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar-Jack cheese

1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown sausage. Remove and place in a large bowl. Add apples to the skillet and cook until golden brown. Add apples and bread cubes to the bowl with the sausage.
2. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and mustard. Add the egg mixture to the sausage mixture and stir in 1 cup of cheese. Pour mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan and cover. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Heat the oven to 350F. Bake egg dish in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle on remaining cheese and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until cooked through.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls

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These should be called "the cranberry orange cinnamon rolls that almost weren't". You see, these babies were destined to fail. I've made cinnamon rolls before, to great success. But this time, things didn't go quite as smoothly. First, I decided to start making them an hour before Ryan and I had planned to go out to dinner. Fail #1. (For the record, dinner had to be brought to me!) Then, I realized my yeast was in the freezer. I immediately dumped it into the warm water before letting it thaw. It did weird things to my dough. Fail #2. Next, as I was adding flour to the dough, I reached in only to discover I was out of flour. Enter two cups of whole wheat flour. Fail #3. Finally, as the dough was rising...it didn't appear to be rising much at all. Fail #4.

So as you can imagine, I wasn't feeling very optimistic by the time I stuck these in the oven early on a Saturday morning. Ryan had planned to take them in to cheer up his work group who was stuck working on a Saturday. I knew if worse came to worse they'd have donuts (someone always brings donuts!), but I was a little depressed that all of my efforts would go to waste. Much to my surprise, these babies puffed up in the oven and came out looking beautiful! I dumped the glaze on top, covered the pan in a giant towel, and Ryan ran out the door. I didn't get so much as a lick of this first batch, which had me feeling a little nervous. Thankfully, Ryan reported that one of his co-workers proclaimed this the best cinnamon roll of his life, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief!

I froze half the batch, which we enjoyed as part of our Christmas morning breakfast. This time, I too got to enjoy the thick dough rolls, spiked with orange and cranberry flavor. Would I choose these over the original cinnamon rolls? That's debatable; I guess I'll have to make both simultaneously and compare! :)

One Year Ago: Gingerbread Pancakes (perfect, just like these cinnamon rolls, for a special New Year's Day breakfast!)

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Two Peas and her Pod and The Novice Chef Blog
*makes approximately 24 cinnamon rolls

For the rolls-
-2 packages active dry yeast, dissolved in 2 cups of lukewarm water
-6 tbsp butter
-1 cup granulated sugar
-7 cups all purpose flour
-2 cups hot water
-2 large eggs, beaten
-1 tbsp salt

-1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
-1 cup light brown sugar
-1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
-2 tbsp ground cinnamon
-zest of 2 large oranges
-1/4 cup granulated sugar

for the frosting-
-1 1/2-2 cups powdered sugar
-2 tbsp milk or half & half
-2 tbsp fresh orange juice

1. Stir yeast into 2 cups of lukewarm water. Let rest for approximately 5 minutes.
2. Add butter, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer, beating for 30 seconds. Mix in eggs, beating until combined. Slowly add yeast mixture, beating until combined.
3. Gradually add flour, mixing first with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, then switching to the dough hook when the dough starts to come together. Knead on medium high speed for approximately 3 minutes.
4. Place dough on a lightly floured counter and knead by hand until it feels smooth, adding a little flour if sticky. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a towel. Allow to rise in a warm area for 30 minutes, until dough has doubled in size.
5. Remove dough from bowl and split into two pieces. Roll one dough piece into a rectangular shape. Brush melted butter on top of dough. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar, half of the chopped cranberries, 1 tbsp cinnamon, and approximately 1/3 of the orange zest.
6. Roll dough away from you into one long roll. Carefully cut into twelve equal pieces. Lay each cinnamon roll, cut side up, in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and a little orange zest. Repeat with remaining half of dough.
7. If baking immediately, cover pan with a towel and allow to rise for 30 min-1 hr, until doubled in size. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, then reducing temperature to 350 and baking for an additional 6-8 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
8. Whisk frosting ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. Pour on top of cinnamon rolls. Serve rolls warm (can be reheated in the microwave).
9. If freezing, cover pan in plastic wrap and foil and place in freezer for up to one month. When ready to bake, remove from freezer and allow to thaw in the fridge overnight. The next day, continue with step #7.

This post is linked to Sweet Rolls That Rock and Eat at Home.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No Potato Venison Stew

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When Mike, Maggie's husband, and I brainstormed her birthday party menu, he mentioned that growing up, venison was a staple in their Wisconsin household. Her motto? Deer meat is better than cow meat. Though they eat less venison now than she did then, venison still frequently turns up on their table. In fact, my favorite comment at her party was when she asked, "where did you get this venison?" to which I replied "your freezer"!

My sister Julia actually made this stew. I provided the recipe, Mike provided the meat, and she turned out a masterpiece. I loved how hearty this was and that it was packed with vegetables. In fact, vegetarians could easily omit the venison and still have a filling dish! I want to make this again...which means I'll have to steal more venison from Maggie's freezer, or use, heaven forbid, cow meat ;)

One Year Ago: Black and White Bean Soup

Slow Cooker No Potato Venison Stew
adapted from grouprecipes

-1-1 1/2 lbs lean beef or venison stew meat (seasoned and broiled until lightly browned)
-1/2 onion, chopped
-2 stalks celery, chopped
-1 butternut squash, chopped into small pieces
-1/2 lb fresh green beans, cut into thirds
-1/2 lb baby carrots, sliced lengthwise
-1 cup frozen pears
-1 large can crushed tomatoes
-1 envelope onion soup mix
-2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
-2 bay leaves
-1/2 cup pearled barley

1. Mix all ingredients in a large crockpot. Cook on high for 8 hours.

Boy, that was easy!

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Baked Potato Soup

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I have never made mashed potatoes before. Correction: I once made mashed SWEET potatoes when I made sweet potato shepherd's pie (nom!), but I don't really count that. To this day, I guess I still haven't made authentic mashed white potatoes. I don't have an excuse for why, I just typically prefer my potatoes in chip form and whenever we ate them mashed, my mom or grandma made them.

Maggie (the birthday girl mentioned in yesterday's post!) is quite the talented potato masher and was a little appalled when she discovered my lacking mashed potato skill! Of course it comes as no surprise then that the first soup she learned how to make was potato, another recipe I'd never attempted. Obviously potato soup had to be included on her birthday menu, meaning it was finally time for me to give it a go!

Baked potato soup success! This soup was thick, creamy, and a Cooking Light recipe no less, which meant we could have all the more indulgent dessert (note: s'mores cake)! I baked and mashed the potatoes the night before, then proceeded with step 2 of the directions the next day. The soup came together fairly quickly and I used my immersion blender to get it to the right consistency (not required, I just wanted to smooth out some of the chunks and make the soup equally thick). The birthday girl was pleased, and hopefully proud of my first potato soup attempt :)

Baked Potato Soup
seen on Playing House, a Cooking Light recipe

-4 baking potatoes (approximately 2 1/2 pounds)
-2/3 cup all-purpose flour
-6 cups 2% percent reduced fat milk
-1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
-1 cup light sour cream
-3/4 cup chopped green onions, divided
-6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Use a fork to pierce potatoes and bake for 1 hour, until tender. Cool, peel off skins, and coarsely mash.
2. In a large stockpot, add flour. Gradually stir in milk, whisking until blended. Continue to cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (approximately 8 minutes). Add potatoes, 3/4 cup cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir until cheese melts, then remove from heat.
3. Add sour cream and onions, stirring. Cook over low heat until thoroughly heated, but not boiling (approximately 10 minutes). Top bowls of soup with cheese, onions, and bacon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Giant S'mores Cake

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Okay, I know I promised non-dessert recipes after Christmas, but this one was too good not to share! Stay tuned for tomorrow, the recipe WON'T contain sugar! This cake was made for my dear friend Maggie, whom I hosted a birthday party for a few weeks ago. The party menu consisted of a number of her favorites, including two soups that I'll be posting over the next two days. Like me, Maggie is a huge fan of dessert and I knew she's be easy to please (so long as I avoided pumpkin or anything melon-flavored!). Still, I wanted a dessert she'd both appreciate and be impressed by.

It was actually months ago that I first saw this cake online. I was in awe. A giant s'more, how awesome is that?! My initial thought was actually that it'd be perfect for Maggie's birthday, and I stored the idea away, anxiously awaiting her party in December.

Execution of this cake proved to be easier than anticipated. I was worried about assembling the layers, but with an extra set of hands (thanks Julia!), it wasn't too difficult. The graham cracker layer was my favorite, and I didn't complain about the extra scraps of those! The cake pieces were giant and the flavor really was reminiscent of a s'more...an extra indulgent s'more, perfect for a special birthday!

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash, Black Bean, & Feta Pita Sandwiches (I still remember how much we loved these...and I really need to re-make and re-photograph because the pictures don't do the recipe justice!!)

Giant S'mores Cake
from Sweet Tooth

for the graham cracker layer-
-1 cup unsalted butter, softened
-1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-4 large eggs
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-3 cups all-purpose flour
-2 cups graham cracker crumbs
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp baking soda

for the brownies-
-1 box fudge brownies

for the marshmallow-
-2 jars Marshmallow Fluff (~15 oz.)
-kitchen torch

1. First make the graham cracker cookie bars. Preheat oven to 375F and line a 9 x 13" pan with foil, spraying with cooking spray.
2. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture, just until combined.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.
5. Next, prepare the brownies according to the box's instructions (use an 8x8" pan and line it with greased foil). Once brownies have been baked and cooled, remove from the pan.
6. To assemble, remove the cookie bar from the pan and lay on a cutting board. With a large serrated knife, cut off sides to form an 8x8" piece. Cut the 8x8" piece in half horizontally (the result will be 2 thin 8x8 cookies). Place one cookie piece on an 8x8" piece of cardboard. Top the cookie with the brownies.
7. Fill a piping (or ziploc) bag with marshmallow fluff and cover the brownie with a thick, even layer of the fluff. (It will be messy and ooze off the sides!)
8. Using a kitchen torch, torch the marshmallow evenly. Allow to set for a few minutes before laying the final cookie layer on top.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow I'll be back with a pretty awesome birthday cake I recently made, but today I'm busy celebrating Jesus' birthday!

This is my first Christmas holiday that we're spending the entire time in St. Louis. It's sad to be growing up and changing some of our traditions, but it's also exciting to start making new ones. I'll miss my Grandma's Christmas dinner, concluded by lime sherbet and raspberries. Today, my mom and I are cooking a big Christmas dinner to share with friends and family. We have a lot of great things on the menu, all to be posted in the next few weeks!

Merry Christmas to those reading this today--now quit reading blogs and go spend time with your family ;)

Luke 2: 9-12 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

Monster Cookies

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It's Christmas Eve. Many of you might be thinking about what cookies you're going to leave out for Santa Claus tonight. Before you assemble your plate of cookies, consider adding these to the mix! Though I was one of those rare children who couldn't be convinced of Santa, I'm pretty sure he'd get a big kick out of these ;) They're big cookies (hence the name), chock full of all sorts of sweet add-ins. The combination might seem a little overwhelming, but it actually works quite well. Even if Santa doesn't like 'em, I'm pretty sure you will!

Monster Cookies
adapted from allrecipes.com
*makes approximately 3 dozen cookies, can be doubled!

-2 eggs (if doubling, only use 3 eggs)
-3/4 cup packed brown sugar
-1/4 cup white sugar
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp corn syrup
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/4 cup butter
-3/4 cup peanut butter
-2 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
-1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-1/2 cup m&ms
-1/2 cup butterscotch chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add sugars, vanilla, corn syrup, baking soda, and peanut butter, mixing to combine well.
3. Stir in oats, chips, and candies.
4. Using an ice cream or cookie scoop, place large balls of dough (approximately 1.5 inches) on ungreased cookie sheets, at least 2 inches apart from one another. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Monday was our work group's Christmas luncheon and it also happened to be my co-worker's birthday. Normally when it's your birthday in our group, you are responsible for bringing in a treat for the group. Since this fell on the same day as our lunch, I offered to make her whatever dessert she wanted. I wasn't surprised when she requested cupcakes, her love for cupcakes is well known! Turn out, her favorite cupcake flavor is vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. I've made Funfetti cupcakes from scratch, but never just plain vanilla. So I turned to Annie, the cupcake queen, and immediately knew I'd found the right recipe.

I halved the recipe and got 12 cupcakes, although Annie said a full recipe yielded 30. The entire recipe is posted below. Though I didn't get to try a finished product, I ate more than a cupcake's worth of batter and frosting and knew they'd come out delicious. My friend Juli tried one at work and declared the buttercream "melt in her mouth". So there you have it! Making a birthday cake (or cupcake!) for Jesus this Christmas?! I recommend these!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
from Annie's Eats

for the cupcakes-
-3 cups cake flour
-1 tbsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
-2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
-2 cups sugar
-5 large eggs, at room temperature
-1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
-1 tbsp vanilla extract

for the frosting-
-2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter softened
-2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
-1/8 tsp salt
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-2 tbsp heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper or foil liners. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add butter and the vanilla beans (scrape out of the pod and discard the pod). Beat butter and vanilla beans with the paddle attachment on medium-high for approximately three minutes, until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to beat for another minute.
3. Add the sugar to the creamed butter, 1/4 cup at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Add each of the eggs, beating after each addition. In a small bowl, mix buttermilk and vanilla extract.
4. With the mixer on low speed, alternating adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5. Divide batter between prepared pans, filling each cup 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes (mine were done after 18 minutes), until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. After 5-10 minutes, remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on a cooling rack.
6. To prepare the frosting, beat the butter in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium high until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar and salt, beating on medium-low for 45 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and beat on medium until mixture is combined. Add vanilla and heavy cream and continue to beat until incorporated (10 seconds). Increase the speed to medium high and beat for 4 minutes, until light and fluffy (scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times as needed). Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Brownie Bottom Nutella Cheesecake Squares

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Dessert overload on The Sweets Life. Get used to it, I'm posting sweet treats through the 24th...I'll return after Christmas with a line-up of healthier dishes! Today's sweet of choice are these brownie bottom Nutella cheesecake squares that I've been dying to make ever since I saw them on Taylor's site. Thanks to my father in law and his love for Costco, I have masses of Nutella to use. I've come a long way from just dipping it in pretzels, like I did in college. Now I've stuffed it in cookies, mixed it with peanut butter brownies, and included it in these delectable cheesecake squares.

I only nabbed a small square of these; the rest were sent with Ryan to work for his Holiday food day. Still, I had enough to know that these were irresistibly rich. I found myself craving a glass of milk with one and I don't even like milk! A little square of these will go a long way, meaning you can cut them small and serve a crowd. The Nutella was prominent in both the brownie and cheesecake layers, just the way it should be!

PS. These disappeared from the food table before Ryan even got to try one! People go crazy for chocolate & Nutella!

One Year Ago: Sugar Cookie Bites (one of the cutest cookies I've made!)

Brownie Bottom Nutella Cheesecake Squares
as seen on Greens and Chocolate

for the brownies-
-10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
-1/4 cup Nutella
-2 large eggs
-1 cup sugar
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1/4 cup cocoa powder

for the cheesecake-
-8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1/3 less fat)
-3 tbsp sugar
-2 large eggs
-1/3 cup Nutella

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9 x 9 inch pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, Nutella, sugar, and eggs. Stir in flour and cocoa powder, mixing until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
3. Using an electric mixer, mix all cheesecake ingredients until smooth. Pour over brownie layer.
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until cheesecake is set. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Store in the refrigerator before serving.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mint Oreo Truffles

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My little sister Renatta (you know, the one who attributes this spinach dip to the smell of my great grandma!) is quite a character. She's eight years younger than me but her humor is years beyond her age. Her quips and sarcastic comments have everyone around her laughing. She's cute, she's funny...and she's spoiled rotten. Sorry Renatta, but it's true :) I can't complain though, I'm just as guilty as letting her get away with murder as anyone else! Since she was an infant, I've felt a special need to protect her, look out for her, and give her what she wants...in my head, she's always been my baby! (even if she doesn't know it or like it!)

What does Renatta have to do with mint oreo truffles? Everything. Last time I was home, I brought the gingerbread truffles and she couldn't get enough. However, she also requested that I make some mint truffles with Oreos. She also asked for quite a list of Christmas gifts. While I can't promise she's getting all those things on her list, the Oreo truffles I could deliver ;) So Renatta, here you go! There are lots and lots of these truffles awaiting your arrival tomorrow! I can't wait to see you!

One Year Ago: S'mores Bark (a great last minute Christmas treat!)

Mint Oreo Truffles

-1 package Mint Oreos
-1 package cream cheese
-1/2 package chocolate almond bark

1. In a food processor (or by hand in a ziploc bag), pulse Oreos until crumbs. Add cream cheese, mixing until completely combined.
2. Place Oreo cream cheese mixture in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to stiffen slightly. Remove from freezer and roll mixture into 1-inch balls.
3. Melt almond bark in a microwaveable bowl, heating for 30 seconds at a time and stirring. Dip balls into melted bark. Place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. Top with sprinkles if desired. Allow to harden and stir in refrigerator or freezer until serving.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rocky Road Fudge

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I have significant appreciation for whoever thought it was a good idea to start combining marshmallows, nuts, and chocolate. This stands as one of my favorite flavor combinations, so as soon as I saw this rocky road fudge, I bookmarked it and waited for the change to make it. When Maggie and I got together for a Christmas cookie baking extravaganza, I added this to the list. It's perfect for when you're making a variety of cookies, because it takes all of ten minutes to make and doesn't require the oven. Even if you're only making one dessert, go for this one...again, it's NO bake, takes ten minutes, and keeps well in the fridge! Oh, and in case you needed another reason to make it this December (or any month, really), it's delicious and addicting!

One Year Ago: Candy Cane Cookies (one of my favorites, with recently updated pictures!)

Rocky Road Fudge
from Blue-Eyed Bakers

-1 bag (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
-1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
-2 tbsp butter
-2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
-1 cup salted peanuts

1. Combine the chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and butter in a glass bowl and melt either using a double boiler or a microwave. (If using a microwave, heat in intervals, stirring every 30 seconds).
2. Once chocolate mixture is melted, stir in marshmallows and peanuts, mixing until well combined.
3. Pour mixture into a greased 8 x 8 dish. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, until firm.
4. Cut fudge into squares and store in refrigerator until serving. Fudge will keep for several days (can also be frozen!).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Twelve in Ten Challenge: Priyaa Indian Cuisine

It's hard to believe that we've completed our twelfth and final Twelve in Ten challenge. I'll reflect more on the challenge in general as well as introduce the 2011 challenge (which is still to be determined!) in my January 1st post. But first, I want to share our experience with Indian food!

I've only had Indian food once before, a lunch buffet that I hit up with some of my co-workers awhile ago. Since then, I've wanted to try it again, which is why I added it to our challenge list. We invited my brother-in-law, his lovely girlfriend Erin, and friends Zak and Lauren to join us for dinner and we met one cold Thursday night at Priyaa, per Erin's suggestion. While Priyaa has a daily lunch buffet, it is not available for dinner so we began to peruse the rather extensive menu and make our choices.

After a few minutes of contemplation we were all ready to order. Erin and Justin opted for the complete thali dinner, which came with several mini dishes in addition to their entrees (Lamb Korma Curry for her and Chicken Tikka Masala for him). Zak also chose a lamb curry dish, and Lauren got the largest crepe (aka dosa) stuffed with vegetable curry that I have ever seen. Note the dosa in the picture below; we all had a good laugh when this monstrosity was brought to the table!

Ryan and I both ordered korma curries, chicken and vegetable, respectively. Each of our meals came with a choice of bread and we went for the nan (spelled nan on the menu, though I always thought it was naan). I'll share a secret with you...while I enjoy Indian food, I'm really there for the nan. The flat doughy bread is always the highlight for me and Priyaa's nan was no exception!
(only took 1 picture of the food; Indian food doesn't photograph well! This was my curry which I ate over basmati rice)

The restaurant is relatively small and there were only a few other patrons eating while we were there. Priyaa appears to be family-owned and we had several different family members wait on us throughout the evening. Though they were silent, they never let you take more than a sip of water without refilling your glass. I couldn't complain about this; the curries were SPICY and I found myself guzzling water after every bite.

Would I return to Priyaa? I think so. The food was good, the prices were decent, and the service was fast. Still, there are plenty of other Indian restaurants to try in St. Louis and I'm anxious to see how they stack up! As always, it was fun to try a new restaurant and a fairly unfamiliar cuisine. Thanks Justin, Erin, Zak, and Lauren for joining us!

One Year Ago: Chocolate Mint M&M Cookies Priyaa on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Green Tea Sugar Cookies

One of the best parts of having this blog is hearing from readers. Whether it's via comment on an entry, a post on my facebook wall, or through the grapevine from my mom, it's always fun to get feedback from people who are trying the recipes on The Sweets Life. Please, keep the communication coming! I want to know what you like, what you hate, which recipes didn't turn out for you, etc. etc.! Have a request for something? Send it my way!

This post came about as the result of one of my readers, Emma from The Hearty Heart, contacted me about a recipe featuring green tea, since she wanted to do a post on the nutritional myths and facts surrounding green tea and then show her readers how they could use green tea in recipes. I happily obliged and set to work researching green tea in recipes. I originally planned to make a smoothie that featured green tea, since my friend Maggie has been raving about the green tea addition to smoothies. But the thought of sipping on a smoothie while I'm sitting in my long underwear next to the space heater was not appealing and I chose to go in a different direction. It turns out you can use green tea in all sorts of baked goods! Being that it's the Christmas season and I can't get enough of Christmas cookies, I chose to make some green tea sugar cookies.

These actually tasted very similar to my favorite sugar cookies, but every so often I'd get a hint of green tea taste. Since I'm a daily green tea drinker, I loved this added flavor. While these snowflakes were a little bit of a pain to cut out and frost, the effort was worth it when I saw how cute they looked on my Christmas platter. 

Thank you Emma for giving me the change to try something new! For those of you interested in reading more about green tea, check out her post here. To those of you who stopped by from Emma's blog, thanks for checking out The Sweets Life and I hope you come back for more recipes!

One Year Ago: Strip Steak with Rosemary Wine Sauce

Green Tea Sugar Cookies

inspired by Feeding the Boys

-1/2 cup unsalted butter
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 egg
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-1/8 cup half and half (can substitute milk)
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/4 tsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-3 tsp matcha powder (I had some matcha that wasn't yet powder, so I ground in my food processor)

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla extract, and half and half, mixing until blended.
2. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and matcha powder. In 3 batches, add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing after each addition.
3. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour, until dough is well chilled.
4. On a floured surface, roll out dough and cut into desired shapes.
5. Bake at 350F for 7-10 minutes (depending on size and thickness of cookies), until bottoms are lightly browned.
6. Cool on wire rack completely.
**If you want to frost, mix powdered sugar with a little bit of half and half (I don't have measurements, I just mix a little bit at a time until I get the consistency I want) and color with food coloring. Use a knife to frost cookies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Baked Vegetable Mac and Cheese

It still surprises me that I find cooking relaxing. In fact, I think people who know me in person are probably also surprised by this! But after a long week at work and an overwhelmingly busy weekend, I breathed a sigh of relief when I set out to prepare this dinner on a Sunday evening. During the week, I rush home from work and prefer to cook meals that require minimal preparation. On the weekends, however, I don't mind spending a little extra time in the kitchen, chopping and stirring and tending to various pots on the stove. Meals like this are especially nice because they give you time to do the dishes while they bake, meaning you can immediately leave the kitchen after eating. I love that!

Julia, Ryan, and I all really liked this mac and cheese, each of us going back for seconds. It definitely isn't the stuff from the blue box, nor is it ultra-rich and cheesy noodles. Instead, it's a baked pasta lightly coated with a cheese sauce and stuffed with roasted vegetables. Julia and Ryan weren't too sure about the apple addition in this, so if you're hesitant feel free to omit. Feel free to switch up the vegetables too; I bet sweet potatoes would be good in here!
Baked Vegetable Mac and Cheese

-1 box whole wheat macaroni (I used a box of Barilla plus, minus a bit of pasta that was used for my butternut squash and kale minestrone)
-1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small chunks
-1 large green apple, chopped into cubes
-1 head of broccoli, chopped
-1/2 large onion, chopped
-2 cups brussels sprouts, chopped
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1/2 tsp nutmeg
-1 tbsp butter
-1 tbsp flour
-1 1/2 cups milk
-8 oz grated cheese (I mostly used sharp cheddar and a little bit of an Italian blend)
-1/4 cup bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, toss squash, broccoli, and apple pieces with 1 tbsp olive oil. Lay out on 1-2 baking sheets and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Roast for 25 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
2. While squash is roasting, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet and add onions and brussels sprouts. Allow to pan roast for 8-10 minutes, tossing frequently with a large spoon.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta, cooking according to the directions on the box. Once pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp butter and add 1 tbsp flour, whisking to create a roux. Add milk and cheese in batches, stirring frequently to allow cheese to melt and sauce to thicken. Continue to whisk until sauce is thickened slightly (mine was still pretty runny when I finished and it was okay).
5. Once vegetables and apple are finished roasting, place with a large bowl with broccoli and onions. Add pasta and mix well to combine everything. Place mixture in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Pour cheese sauce over mixture and carefully mix with a spoon to blend. Sprinkle additional cheese on top (if desired) and top with breadcrumbs.
6. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cinnamon Pretzels

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When you find yourself at a party full of appetizers, do you reach for the sweet stuff or the salty stuff? For me, it's always, always the sweet stuff. Put a bag of chips in front of me and I won't look at it twice but anything with sugar is doomed. Despite my affinity for the sweet stuff, there are two salty snacks that I happen to love: pretzels and popcorn. When my mom mentioned a recipe for Cinnamon Pretzels that she pulled out of a magazine, I knew I'd struck gold. My favorite salty snack, with the addition of sugar?! Now we're talking!

In just over half an hour, you can have a huge batch of cinnamon pretzels at your disposal. They make your house smell like Auntie Anne's at the mall and that's exactly what they taste like, just with mini hard pretzels instead of the giant soft pretzels. I plan to make tons of this stuff over Christmas, both to serve  and to give away. This makes an easy, inexpensive food gift if you don't have time to make cookie trays, or want to add a little saltiness amongst all your super sweet treats.

One Year Ago: Tortilla Black Bean Pie

Cinnamon Pretzels
from Midwest Living December 2010
-2/3 cup vegetable oil
-1/2 cup sugar
-2 tsp ground cinnamon
-1 16 oz. package small pretzel twists

1. In a large roasting pan, stir together vegetable oil, sugar, and cinnamon.
2. Add pretzels to the pan and toss to coat completely with cinnamon-sugar mixture.
3. Bake, uncovered, at 300F for 30 minutes, stirring at 10 minutes and 20 minutes.
4. Spread on waxed paper to cool and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Baked Southwestern Egg Rolls

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I am not good at wrapping gifts. My corners get scrunched up, sometimes the paper tears, and this year, I kept cutting pieces of wrapping paper too small and having to tape other pieces over  the box to cover the holes. Yes, it's a bit of a disaster. Thankfully, when all of the gifts are sprawled under the tree, no one  knows about any of the wrapping mishaps. All they can see are some prettily coordinated packages and the paper is ripped off before anyone notices the adjunct pieces of wrapping paper or the haphazard pieces of tape!

Making these egg rolls was a lot like wrapping presents. I was embarrassed at the state that some of my egg rolls were in after I'd rolled them. Some were oddly pudgy, others had funny edges pointing out, and none looked quite like they belonged in a Chinese restaurant. Granted, these are Southwestern egg rolls, so you won't find them in a Chinese restaurant anyways! Much like the presents, once pulled out of the oven and placed on a tray, the egg rolls suddenly looked okay. And once I bit into one, all memories of rolling difficulties were forgotten.

These make a great appetizer, especially when you're looking for something more substantial than cheese and crackers. Don't limit them to parties though, I plan to make these again for dinner sometime! I also want to experiment with other fillings. I think a more traditional egg roll filling would be good, as would roasted vegetables and goat cheese, or perhaps chicken, brie, and apricot jam!

One Year Ago: No-Bake Granola Bars

Baked Southwestern Egg Rolls
from Annie's Eats

-2 cups frozen corn, thawed
-1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
-1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
-2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
-1 (4 oz.) can diced green chilies, drained
-4 green onions, chopped
-1 tsp. ground cumin
-1/2 tsp. chili powder
-1 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. pepper
-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
-1 package egg roll wrappers (mine had 20 wrappers in it)

1. Combine all ingredients except the egg roll wrappers in a large bowl. Mix with a spoon to combine everything well.
2. On a flat work surface, lay one egg roll wrapper with one of the corners facing you. Place 1/4 cup of filling in the center of the wrapper.
3. Fold the corner closest to you up over the filling. Continue to roll away from you, pulling in the corners on the two sides and folding them in toward the center.
4. Keep rolling into a cylindrical shape until a small part of the remaining corner (farthest away from you) is free. Press the corner into the egg roll and, with your finger dipped in a bit of water, press the corner to seal the egg roll.
5. Repeat with remaining egg roll wrappers. (You may have some filling leftover) Place all egg rolls seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown, turning halfway through baking.
6. Serve warm with salsa and sour cream. (Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave)